By Chris McGuinness
Killeen Daily Herald
Central Texas College students from all walks of life got the chance to see the inner workings of the nation's space program this year through NASA's National Community College Aerospace Scholars program.
This was the college's 10th year participating in the program, which challenges groups of community college students to take online courses and vie for the chance to visit a NASA center to take part in a three-day competition against their peers.
"It was a really exciting experience," said Carroll Beckhorn, a teaching student who participated this year. "It was a wonderful opportunity to get to see NASA's inner workings, and work with some very brilliant and inspiring people."
Participants complete one semester of online curriculum, which includes communicating with NASA engineers.
After completing a series of online projects, the students are selected to visit a NASA center. The CTC students who were selected this year were invited to the Johnson Space Center in Houston March 21-23, where they were able to participate in another competition to build and promote a robot to traverse the surface of Mars.
"We were all split up into teams, and we had to form a company that would design a robot," said Lani Heatly, another CTC student who was selected for the program. "We had to think of everything, from coming up with the company and a business plan, to designing the robot itself."
The competition not only focused on the science-based aspect of building a rover, but showed students a multifaceted process of development, which relied heavily on teamwork, communication and presenting or "pitching" ideas to multiple groups of people.
"It was fascinating when you realize that it's more than just engineers and astronauts at NASA," said Beckhorn. "There's marketing people, energy experts, even optometrists. It's a whole a whole community of people working together."
Heatly, a fine arts major studying marketing, agreed with Beckhorn.
"I liked that they bring in students from all different areas," she said. "You aren't just working people who want to be engineers, (NASA) is really looking for people who are creative thinkers from all different disciplines and points of view."
For Josh Ivie, a geology major who also went to the competition, the program shows community college students that prestigious jobs at places like NASA weren't out of reach.
"Just because you didn't go to an Ivy League school, doesn't mean that (NASA) won't want you. They are looking for the cream of the crop, no matter what school you go to," Ivie said. "Some students may think a job with them is unattainable, but that's not true."
Ivie's words weren't idle either. He said his experience in the competition resulted in an internship with NASA.
"I recommend it for any student, no matter what you are studying," he said. "It's really an experience that's eye-opening for any student."
Contact Chris McGuinness at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.